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Sanibel museum readies for opening with new visitor center, fourth decade of island history

By Staff | Nov 5, 2014

Museum manager Emilie Alfino with a few photos from Sanibel’s past. CRAIG GARRETT

A few changes are in store at the Sanibel Historical Museum & Village, a popular island attraction that welcomed more than 10,000 visitors last season.

The biggest transition will be the new welcoming center at Shore Haven, the 1924 Sears, Roebuck kit home brought in its entirety to the museum grounds a couple of years ago. The village’s first acquisition, the Rutland House, had been used as the visitor center for 30 years, but Shore Haven’s open floor space and amenities prompted officials to make the switch.

The museum opens for the season Nov. 5. Entry fees will be $10 for adults 18 and older; child admission is still free.

Other changes at the village include a new giftshop in the Rutland House, an introductory slice of the “Sandbars to Sanibel” video, modest building repairs and upgrades, a bevy of historical photos hung in Shore Haven, and a re-routing of the tour into a counter-clockwise direction. Lectures, special exhibits, historical talks and other programs will return or will be introduced.

“I’m anxious,” museum manager Emilie Alfino said. “In a good way.”

Shore Haven.

Even with the advancements, museum grounds remain vintage Sanibel; an original packing house/general store, a post office, a tea parlor, a one-room schoolhouse, the things and places that characterize a small island in a subtropical paradise.

For many, the centerpiece attraction is the Bailey’s Packing Co./General Store, a wood structure retaining the charm of its era after a hurricane destroyed its predecessor in 1926. The store’s interior is stocked with hundreds of items representing goods sold from the 1920s through the 1960s; a box of Quaker Lace, canisters of Quinlan’s Butter Pretzel and Zombies coconut confectionary and Campfire marshmallows, Hersey bars, Campbell soup and tools donated by islanders over the last couple of generations, Alfino said. It has that strange and warming sensation of timelock in historic villages.

The store’s authenticity is concentrated in and around founder Frank Bailey’s desk, crouched in silence for decades near a corner window. Writing tools, accounting devices and leather pouches lay on the heavy wood desk. Standing at the man’s workplace, it’s not hard to imagine a ceiling fan twirling overhead, excited children picking through hardcandy bins, a woman’s hand brushing soft linen, and man hefting an iron tool or feathering out a length of rope, as Mr. Bailey tallied sales in the ledger. Exterior photos show the store’s wood porch, a delivery ramp, cars parked in sand, palms backdropped by the San Carlos Bay. It looks amazingly serene.

Sheathed in plastic on the desk are Mr. Bailey’s correspondences, including a letter to his brother Ernest that began: “It seems a very long time since I have had a letter from you” and he shares the business of his life in January 1919.

The Shore Haven home is an example of finer living in Sanibel. It is spacious; a couple of bedrooms, even an upstairs bathroom. At one point the home at 1111 Bird Lane shared with its Morning Glories’s neighbor an artesian well, an electric generator and bathhouse. The two homes were owned by brothers Ross and Martin Mayer. Ross and Daisy Mayer built Shore Haven. It was located near the old Sanibel Packing Co., with its rear side facing San Carlos Bay near the Matthews Wharf where the daily steamer docked.

Shore Haven over the years changed hands, and finally faced demolition. The city and Frank Bailey’s descendants stepped in, Alfino said. It was moved intact to the museum at a cost of about $117,000. Still, officials were concerned that its modernized interior would hurt the museum’s authenticity, Alfino said. While the historical feel a Rutland House is lost in Shore Haven, the conveniences of space and amenities outweighed the losses, she said. The Rutland House in season would bottleneck visitors waiting to the tour the grounds.

The museum opens at 10 a.m. Nov. 5. Season pass/packages are available. Details are at sanibelmuseum.org.